Review: NOVA - The Great Robot Race

Posted 23 Mar 2006 at 20:18 UTC by steve Share This

The fine folks at NOVA sent robots.net a preview copy of their upcoming episode on the DARPA Grand Challenge titled, The Great Robot Race. The documentary will air on Tuesday, March 28th at 8pm ET on local PBS stations. We watched it and enjoyed it. Read on for a few highlights of the show and be sure to check out the additional NOVA video clips that didn't make it into the final cut.

When I popped NOVA's The Great Robot Race DVD into the player, I was expecting to see the usual recycled footage of the most recent Grand Challenge. I've seen a dozen or more collections of Grand Challenge video at this point and most of them look about the same. Two suprises awaited me. First, the NOVA camera crew was somehow able to get access that no one else could. They have better footage than I've seen from many of the teams and even from DARPA itself. They were the only group allowed to shoot aerial footage during the race. So, it's definitely worth watching for the exclusive video alone.

The second suprise is that the documentary starts at the begining and includes the story of both the first and second DARPA Grand Challenge. They start at the begining explaining why the DARPA Grand Challenge took place, why the Pentagon wants autonomous miltary vehicles, and how such vehicles could save lives. All this is told in the usual thorough and interesting style that has made NOVA a favorite of geeks everywhere. It also makes the show particularly worth watching if you aren't familiar with the whole story and want to get up to speed on what the race was all about.

In addition to the new and unexpected elements in the documentary, you'll see what you're expecting as well. The numerous crashes and failures that characterized the first Grand Challenge are all there. You'll see robots driving into barriers, into ditches, flipping over, losing their balance, or just standing motionless in confusion. They've captured the planning and testing that went into the robots for the second Challenge. You'll get to see the reactions of the teams as the winning robots cross the finish line. And, of course, they talk about what kind of applications the technology could have for consumers in the future, such as driverless cars and smart cruise controls.

Put it on your calendar. Definitely worth checking out!

Great Program, posted 29 Mar 2006 at 19:21 UTC by Nelson » (Journeyer)

Great program! Lots of excellent footage of vehicles in various stages of developement and testing, as well as great shots of the DGC event from helicopters over the course.

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